Editorial: Why not try a little calm and solidarity?
A lot of Coastsiders are confused by the $37 million Yamagiwa decision. That’s not surprising. They’re being fed misinformation by people who know better. If you listen to Coastside property rightists, you’d think that this decision was a repudiation of the environmentalists.
That is nonsense.
Yamagiwa is not about whether the city of Half Moon Bay has the right to define wetlands, whether Beachwood contains wetlands, or whether the declaration of wetlands at Beachwood was a taking of property. That was settled in the city’s favor years ago.
Yamagiwa is not about property owners having their rights taken away by environmentalists. The "taking" outlined by judge Walker was the creation of wetlands as the accidental consequence of actions by pro-development, pre-environmentalist Half Moon Bay city councils in the 1980s and 90s.
Coastside property rightists claim to have read the decision, but you wouldn’t know it from their analysis. The issue in the Yamagiwa case was the origin of the wetlands. Ironically, the court says that the wetlands were created in the 1980s when the city was trying to make Beachwood and nearby property more developable.
It would be easy for for Coastside environmentalists to point fingers at sloppy city governments ready to grease the skids for poorly planned development. Instead, they’re calling for calm and solidarity, while the property rightists see this as an opportunity to flog their usual solutions.
County Coastside Water District board member Chris Mickelsen— who has personally harassed at least one planning commissioner —blames the planning commission that found wetlands on the property, but Judge Walker barely mentions that decision.
CCWD board member Jim Larimer—who writes periodically in the Review about why big developments are the answer to the Coastside’s problems—says that the city has come to these dark days because it doesn’t care about property rights. He couldn’t have come to that conclusion from reading the judge’s decision. The judge describes something that sounds more like incompetence.
Perennial city council candidate and gadfly George Muteff says that the city wouldn’t be in this fix if it had only fired the attorneys that had won the wetlands case two years ago, and simply capitulated in the face of another lawsuit as he advised when he ran for city council two years ago.
Meanwhile, the environmentalists are standing behind a city council that has rejected them. They’re saying the city councils they fought for decades didn’t create the wetlands at Beachwood for one simple reason:
The land has always been wet.
Granted, the judge didn’t accept that defense. Judge Walker spent most of the 167 pages of his decision explaining why he thought the city had created wetlands at Beachwood.
I have no opinion on the origin of unbearable wetness of Beachwood. What I can tell you is that knowledgeable people—from both sides of the political divide—who are familiar with Beachwood are saying that it was always wet and that the judge chose to ignore the evidence. It remains to be seen if that is a viable avenue for appeal.
What should the city do next?
Half Moon Bay can negotiate with a man who’s holding a gun to its head. I don’t see how that can end well. Do you?
Or they can fight.
The city and its new lawyers must still determine the cost and grounds for appeal—and the odds of victory—before they make a final decision. But it’s hard to believe that it’s not the best alternative.
The city of Half Moon Bay has some tough times ahead, regardless of how this turns out.
Each of us has to decide what we stand for: fighting for our community with calm and solidarity; or capitulating, second-guessing, and finger-pointing.